Irrigation management, technology help producers survive drought

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AMARILLO – Two years of drought have forced adoption of new technology and management practices in crop irrigation, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist in Amarillo.

Nich Kenny, AgriLife Extension irrigation specialist, said the key factor moving into the 2013 season will be for producers to concentrate on their irrigation management.

“There are new water pumping regulations in place, and we are coming off two years of pretty significant drought,” Kenny said. “What that means is on two fronts, these guys are limited to how much water they have available.”

On the regulatory side, most producers who had banked water in previous years through efficient measures have exhausted those banks, so they are only going to be allowed to pump and apply what they are permitted to within in a single season, he said.

On the drought side, because of the stress of two back-to-back years, some of these well capacities have dropped. Where a producer may have been able to grow high-output corn on 120 acres before, he may now need to look at lower-output corn on that 120 acres or split those irrigation circles to match his capacity.

“It seems like over the last couple of years, we’ve made big improvements in technologies,” Kenny said. “The guys have taken some proper steps to make sure their pivots are outfitted properly. They are using proper residue management, good plant populations and planting dates.

“Now we’re really getting right down to where it will require some active irrigation management – holding some water early, managing soil water so we are not over-applying or over-irrigating early, and then keeping up with capacity during the middle of the season,” he said.

Kenny said some producers already know, but others must improve their understanding of how much water they really need to keep up with all their crops, from corn to cotton and sorghum.

Producers need a good feel of what their capacity is and what is needed to maintain moisture during the season, he said. When the crop is at the tail-end of the season, they might need to back off the water again to match crop water needs as the it maturesand finishes out towards harvest.

“Something that has been to our advantage is that during that drought, a lot of producers have learned to be very efficient,” Kenny said. “They’ve looked at applying bubble-mode sprinklers so that they are minimizing their evaporation. We’ve had a renewed and improved interest in subsurface drip irrigation.”

There have been some hardware upgrades that have made these drought-related challenges possible to overcome, he said.

“What we have seen, fortunately, is that producers learned enough lessons from 2011 that they actually had some record-setting yields during the second year of drought,” Kenny said. “These new technologies are being applied very quickly, the management strategies are being applied, and our producers are doing a great job of adopting new practices that allow them to adapt to the weather conditions.”



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